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An Added Cost of Car Care? Bad Roads


If you ever have bounced along the uneven pavement on the Long Beach Freeway or rumbled down the cracks of the Santa Ana Freeway, you know it can't be good for your car.

A new study confirms the worst fears of many motorists in the Los Angeles area: Poor freeway conditions around Southern California are imposing costly damage.

Conducted by the Surface Transportation Policy Project in Culver City and the Environmental Working Group in Washington, the study claims that a driver in Los Angeles pays $1,831 over the life of his or her car because of poor road conditions and large amounts of driving. That's the highest of any city, comparing to a nationwide average of just $420.

The assessment is based on a lot of assumptions, many of which no doubt could be disputed by other experts. But the groups' point is that the federal government ought to fix its existing roads before it embarks on a multibillion-dollar road expansion under consideration by Congress.

The legislation would reauthorize the entire federal highway transportation program and has become a focal point for all kinds of political battles (for instance, under the same bill, trucking interests are lobbying to introduce triple trailer trucks in San Bernardino County). Motorists all over the nation would feel the impact, good or bad, of this legislation for many years to come.

Based on the government's own reports, the nation's roads generally are a mess: About 45% of urban highways in Los Angeles are in poor or mediocre condition. San Diego is the bumpiest city in the state with 50% of its roads in poor or mediocre shape. Want good roads? Move to Fresno, where just 3% of the urban highways don't measure up.

A breakdown of the Surface Transportation Policy Project/Environmental Working Group estimate indicates that drivers here spend $676 million annually for car repairs resulting from lousy roads, compared to just $200 million that the state spends to maintain the same roads.

The estimate--based on four kinds of costs: tire wear, fuel consumption, maintenance and depreciation--is based on a formula from a Department of Transportation study done in the mid-1980s, and if anything, the costs today should be higher, according to Brian Cohen, author of the report.

Although L.A. freeways have plenty of problems, at least they rank low in the pothole index. The nation's pothole capital is Virginia's Norfolk/Virginia Beach/Newport News area.

* Vartabedian cannot answer mail personally but will attempt to respond in this column to automotive questions of general interest. Do not telephone. Write to Your Wheels, 1875 I St. N.W. #1100, Washington, DC 20006 or e-mail

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